Mongolia is a country that boasts a high literacy rate (99 percent), strong primary school attendance and completion statistics (97 percent and 93 percent), and a culture that values books and reading. Despite these positive indicators, however, a deeper dive finds that, according to 2018 UNICEF data, only 67 percent of Mongolian three- and four-year-olds are developmentally on track with expected literacy and numeracy standards.
Several factors may be contributing to this challenge in early childhood education, including well-documented crowding and space limitations at kindergartens in urban areas, but a recent survey by The Asia Foundation and the Independent Research Institute of Mongolia (IRIM) suggests that the learning environment at home for young children may also play a part.
This survey, on the practice of reading with young children by parents and caregivers in Ulaanbaatar, found that fewer than 10 percent of children age five or younger are read to on a daily basis, and under 40 percent at least once a week.
First was a misconception about the appropriate age to start reading with children. While a majority of parents surveyed (73 percent) were aware of the importance of reading to their children and encouraging them to love books, half (49.7 percent) believed the appropriate age to start reading with children was three years or older. This may indicate that reading is seen primarily as an activity to teach children to read, a narrow view of the benefits of reading aloud.
A range of factors in urban life may be contributing to this lack of time: long workday commutes in heavy traffic, the need for low-income families to work multiple jobs, the expectation that high earners will work long hours, and so forth.
This issue of time is a central theme of the social media campaign “15 Minutes” that was recently launched by the Asia Foundation’s Let’s Read Mongolia program with funding from the Lorinet Foundation.
The “15 Minutes” campaign is a creative attempt to provide reminders, encouragement, tools, and information to parents and caregivers about reading with young children. (Asia Foundation)